Terry celebrated his 33rd birthday like many people do: with cake, presents and his closest friends and family singing "Happy Birthday." But Terry isn't your average birthday celebrant. He's a chimpanzee.
Even though Lucien Meyer brought Terry to the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park in 1994, he still comes three to four times a week to spend the afternoon with Terry. Also known as the Las Vegas Zoo, the park is at 1775 N. Rancho Drive.
Meyer, originally part of a comedy act, first started performing with chimpanzees in 1957. He adopted Terry from another performer in California to be a companion for his other chimpanzee at the time, Simon.
Terry skated with the chimpanzees in ice shows, and they would skate, jump fences, bicycle on ice and do handstands and back flips. He traveled the world with them.
When he retired, Meyer transformed his double garage in Las Vegas into a home for his two chimps. Then he spoke with the zoo's director, Pat Dingle, about building a space for them at the zoo. "I'm glad I found a good place here so I don't have the responsibility," Meyer said. Simon died a few weeks after arriving at the zoo, but Terry has thrived, and Meyer said he is happy with the decision to bring his chimps there.
Terry received a lunchbox with a monkey face printed on it and green gelatin inside as a birthday present from the zoo. The face scared him, and Meyer had to pull the green gelatin from the box before Terry would eat it. Meyer said Terry is also afraid of some puppets and stuffed animals. Terry did enjoy the two new balls he received, however.
Dingle said hundreds of people have signed Terry's birthday cards, adding that the chimp is the zoo's icon. Still, because other animals do not understand birthdays, the zoo staff also gave presents to them, too.
Meyer said chimpanzees can do a lot of damage if they escape, but if they are handled correctly and treated right, they will not be violent.
He said he has never had an issue with a chimpanzee since he first started working with them in 1957, and the key was giving them freedom.
Meyer often took his chimpanzees to the forest to explore when he lived with them. He took Simon and Terry to fish at Lake Mead or to Mount Charleston to play in the trees. At the zoo, Terry has his own indoor and outdoor space and enjoys watching television, including cooking shows and cartoons that feature animals.
Watching television is not Terry's only human habit. He enjoys pouring liquids from one bottle to the other and knows sign language. There's a limit, though, Meyer said.
"They only can do what they're taught; they cannot bring out their story," he said. "But they're smart; they know a lot of things to do on their own."
He recalled that one chimpanzee even grabbed a large set of his keys and pulled out the correct one to open a door.
Joseph Mills Villegas, 30, has come to the zoo since he was 11 and grew up around the corner.
He said he loved listening to the tigers roar and peacocks call during the middle of the night.
"It was the best way to grow up," he said. Mills Villegas came out to celebrate Nov. 17 even though he now lives near Mount Charleston.
He described Terry as "a riot with the best personality - energetic and a big sweetheart."
Mills Villegas is a recent College of Southern Nevada graduate with a degree in commercial photography, focusing now on nature photography. He has offered to photograph the animals at his favorite zoo for free to help the zoo in any way he can.
He said Terry is the best animal to photograph because he has the best poses.
"You're a ham, sir," Mills Villegas said to Terry Nov. 17 while stroking the bottom of his foot through the bars of his enclosure.
He said he loves the zoo because he can get close to the animals.
"It's a lot better because I like the fact that we get to see the personalities," he said. He noticed over the years that Terry always seems happier when Meyer is in the cage with him.
Meyer's wife, a Japanese champion ice skater, died five years ago.
"Right now, that's the only family I have - this one here," Meyer said, putting his arm around Terry.
Chris Hogan said when she picked up her grandchildren Riley, 8, and Jeremy, 5, on Nov. 17, the first thing they said was that they wanted to go see Terry. She said she has taken them to the zoo the last two years.
"I think it's a secret, and I think most people don't know about it," Hogan said of the zoo and exhibit.
As her grandchildren ate vanilla cake and participated in complimentary mask painting, she said she was glad they did not miss it and could celebrate with Terry.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Laura Phelps at email@example.com or 702-477-3839.